Blog Post

What Was the First MOOC?

Did you know that the first MOOC-like massive, open, online course was offered by HASTAC in 2006-2007?  


Of course, many insist that it was Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig who developed the first MOOC in 2011 when they taught their artificial intelligence course at Stanford that drew 160,000 online registrants.  Others go back to 2008 when Stephen Downes and George Siemens mounted  an online course partly to prove that you could do connectivist open learning via a digital platform.   As a recent article in Slate  notes,  connectivist learning theory "draws  from neuroscience and computer networking" and "postulates that knowledge is distributed across human and nonhuman nodes in a network. Downes and Siemens argue that in the 21st century, education is the ability to navigate this network, link disparate fields, and contribute to the understanding of other people."


Actually, drawing from similar connectivist principles, HASTAC ran a MOOC (no one knew term back then:  David Cormier hadn't invented it yet!) that we estimated reached well over 100,000 people over the course of 2006-2007.  It was more like an ur-MOOC since you didn't receive credit from taking the public offerings by each university that was offering its own onsite as well as its online components.  


Instead, we mounted a complex, coordinated, paced, syncrhonized and successful In/Formation Year, where about  twenty different universities coordinated a full year of public, free, online programing designed to encourage participants to think about all the aspects of the Web that connects seemingly disparate aspects of the university and society.   The In/Formation Year mounted  webcast lectures and courses, events, seminars, and conferences, each with a different "In-" theme each month (in common, in community, interplay, interaction, injustice, integration, invitation, interface, innovation).  You can find out more about this historic year here:


We didn't call it a MOOC.  But it was massive, open, online . . . and connectivist.   The point was to challenge students and faculty across disciplies and institutions and in the community as well to join together to think through the basic ideas of information, networks, connection, and learning.   Others are claiming to be "first" too, and the whole idea of a "first" is typically pretty specious, but it is interesting to look back and see that many of us were already thinking about new ways to bring learning to more people, not as a top-down and hierarchical activity but as a form of peer-to-peer and expert learning exchange.

One of the leaders of our InFormation Year was Anne Balsamo, a HASTAC founding member, and one of the leaders of this Fall 2013's amazing FemTechNet DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course), another brilliant and innovative learning model.


We'll be doing it again on an even more massive scale starting this January:   This one is more like a meta-MOOC, designed to probe all the different ways to learn and think, online and off.    Join us in taking back the MOOC! 




I recently found, through my tours of the internet, the blog of Ian Schreiber, who taught a free online class in Game Design. In his own words:

I always wondered what would happen if I took the content from one of my game design courses and put it up online for free, so I did this in Summer 2009 just to see if I could.

Ain't it funny how the Stanford guys can do the same thing and get infinitely more buzz?


(oops, double posted.)


I would compare the MOOC to Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf, or to the Carnegie movement at the turn of the last century for correspondence courses, or some of the major university "open college" or "colleges of continuing education" or models like "Harvard Extension." At issue is to use available technology to deliver credible instructional opportunities and, as the tech changed, so did its materials.

The precedent I would suggest that's more appropriate would be Marshall McLuhan's since credit is less important than the form of delivery, and the form actually anticipates (rather than follows) function. That is a very old pattern in Universities, and should probably include Mark Hopkins at the end of that log almost two centuries ago. Just because that log is now online and gets a lot more sitters than he did in the 1840's, doesn't really change its direction.

For that matter, it's nice to see you can download that five foot shelf for the same price as an EdX MOOC.